Five Signs to Take Neck Pain Seriously

Orthopaedic & Spine Center

Mark W. McFarland, DO

I’m certain that there isn’t one of us who hasn’t had neck pain at some point in their life – we’ve slept funny and woke up with a “crick” in our neck or we painted the ceiling, or we did something that made our neck hurt.  Usually, with a little TLC, a heating pad, and a hot shower, that neck pain clears up magically.  However, how do you know when you need to take neck pain seriously and seek medical attention?  Longer lasting neck pain can be caused by muscle strain and sprain, pinched nerves, arthritis, diseases, and a variety of other causes.  In this article, I’m going to give you some signs to look for that will guide you toward your Orthopaedist’s office PDQ.  They are as follows:

  1. You’ve had or been in an accident.  Car accidents, falls, lifting and dropping heavy items, all of these can cause acute neck pain.  You may have shrugged the pain off at the time, thinking it would get better in time, on its own.  When it doesn’t, it’s time to get it checked out, because the pain could be an indication of something more serious.
  2. The pain doesn’t go away.  If you’ve had unrelenting neck pain for over a week, and you’ve tried home remedies, such as an OTC anti-inflammatory medication like Naproxen Sodium, in a therapeutic dosage and the pain has not lessened, it’s time to see a physician.
  3. The pain in your neck gets worse and spreads to your shoulders and down your arms. This type of pain is called radiculopathy, or limb nerve pain, and it indicates that a nerve in the patient’s spine or elsewhere is being compromised, causing the pain, or numbness, tingling, burning or weakness.  This type of nerve pain is concerning because if left untreated for too long, can become difficult to treat or permanent.
  4. If you have neck pain, along with neck stiffness, a sudden high fever, a sudden severe headache that seems different than a normal headache, which may or may not be accompanied by nausea or vomiting, confusion or fogginess, go to an Emergency Room immediately.  These symptoms are signs of a condition called meningitis, which is a life-threatening inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membrane due to a bacterial, viral or fungal infection.
  5. If you have neck pain AND you also have a loss of bowel or bladder control and weakness and loss of control in the legs, this is a signal that there is a significant neurologic issue in the communication between your brain and your body, via the spinal column in your neck.  This is a true medical emergency and you should be seen by a qualified orthopaedic spine specialist as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.

 

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